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Building confidence in using online forums
Building confidence in using online forums

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3 Addressing your barriers

So far, in this session, you have considered the different barriers which may limit people getting involved on online learning forums. You have also noted the barriers that are most important for you. In this section, you will address your barriers so that you can get involved and benefit from participation. Start by working through the next activity.

Activity 5 How should I react online?

Timing: Allow about 10 minutes

You will now consider three different scenarios and choose which responses you think are most appropriate in each case. Use your knowledge of netiquette and the ideas that you have considered in this course to guide your responses.

Scenario 1

Hello everyone. To get this forum started I am going to share my thoughts on my favourite TV programmes. My absolute favourite is Strictly come dancing, but I also like crime drammas such as Lin of Duty. What about everyone else?
I agree John, I also like Strictly but I also really like soaps such as EastEnders.
Li Wei:
not a fan of soaps but I do like factual programmes about wildlife. Strictly is my worst nightmare 😊
have you all got nothing better to do! I would NOT dream of watching anything that you have watched. I do not see the point of this thread!!!!!

Which response(s) below do you think is the most appropriate here and why?

  • a.No response needed because the final post has shut down all further discussion.
  • b.‘I like TV programmes so what is your problem ☹☹’.
  • c.‘I appreciate that not everyone likes TV, but I find that it is a welcome distraction from studying and managing my family.’
  • d.‘Thanks for getting this forum thread started Juan. It is nice to see what others get up to in their spare time. I am a fan of music mainly, so I don’t watch too much TV, but I might catch up on some wildlife programmes that Li Wei has mentioned. Which ones do you suggest Li Wei?’


This is an example of an informal introductory discussion, as discussed in Session 3. It starts to develop a sense of community within a social network. Not everyone will want to contribute but responses (c) and (d) aim to neutralise any negative comments, continue the discussion and acknowledge the previous posts. People who often use social networks for communication talk about the power of positivity in dealing with participants who have different or negative views, as in this scenario. To keep the conversation going, and use good netiquette, responses (c) or (d) are good choices. Note that response (d) ends with an open question, inviting a further response.

By developing a sense of community, participants are more likely to become motivated and invested in the forum. You might also have noted there are some spelling errors in the first post. These are ignored by the other participants, so Juan won’t feel embarrassed and reluctant to contribute again.

Scenario 2

You are asked to respond to a long discussion where there have been numerous posts. Some of them are very lengthy, highly detailed and discuss aspects which you have not yet studied.

Do you:

  • a.Stop reading and log out. You lack the confidence to contribute and don’t want to look or feel inferior.
  • b.Read the posts and introduce yourself to the topic that you will be studying. You are not in a position to contribute at the moment but could at another time.
  • c.Choose one or two posts and respond to them quickly by stating ‘I agree’. This shows that you have at least contributed to the forum.
  • d.Read the posts and take a strategic approach. You haven’t the time or confidence to respond to everything. So you decide to focus on one post where you can ask an open question which will extend the discussion and enhance your learning in some way.


By being strategic (Saint Paul University, no date), you can respond in a way that is appropriate for you at a particular time. When you have studied further, you could be in a position to ask a question or make a comment that will further the discussion. Remember: you have your own unique perspectives on a topic, so might have interpreted the source material in a way that provides a fresh perspective to other participants.

When writing a post, try to be concise (Vonderwell, 2003, cited in University of Waterloo, no date). Long posts are more difficult to read and, hence, less likely to be responded to by other people. Response (d) is the strategic option: by asking an open question, you keep the conversation going. Responses (b) or (c) are both ways of keeping involved. Response (b) means that you are participating by reading, although you don’t actively contribute through your own post yet.

Scenario 3

You ask a question on the forum. One person responds in what you consider to be a sarcastic and patronising manner.

Do you:

  • a.Ignore it. They are welcome to their opinion.
  • b.Feel a little upset but, on rereading their reply, they might have been trying to be humorous.
  • c.Reply immediately and tell them in no uncertain terms that they are rude and should keep their ideas to themselves.
  • d.Realise that the reply has knocked your confidence but decide to respond by stating ‘I’m not quite sure about your response but I am sure that other people will also want to know the answer to this question as it was not clear to me’.
  • e.Feel very upset and, although you know the benefits to your learning of getting involved, decide that you will never ask a question or contribute again.


Sometimes people respond on a forum thread without thinking about how their comments could be interpreted. By trying to defuse the situation in response (d), you are reiterating the importance of being able to ask the question on a forum. Very often, forums are monitored for inappropriate posts and they could be removed. If you are in doubt, or if any further instances occur, you should report this type of behaviour to the forum moderator.

In the next section, you will consider some of the benefits of taking your time to respond on an online learning forum.